Self‐shading and meltwater spreading control the transition from light to iron limitation in an Antarctic coastal polynya
Dotson Ice Shelf (DIS) in West Antarctica is undergoing rapid basal melting driven by intrusions of warm, saline Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) onto the continental shelf. Meltwater from DIS is thought to influence biology in the adjacent Amundsen Sea Polynya (ASP), which exhibits the highest Net Primary Productivity (NPP) per unit area of any coastal polynya in the Southern Ocean. However, the relative importance of iron and light in colimiting the spring phytoplankton bloom in the ASP remains poorly understood. In this modelling study we first investigate the mechanisms by which ice shelves impact NPP, then map spatio‐temporal patterns in iron‐light colimitation, and finally examine the environmental drivers of iron and light supply. We find that ice shelf melting leads to greater upper ocean iron concentrations, both directly due to release of iron from sediments entrained at the glacier bed, and indirectly via a buoyancy‐driven overturning circulation which pulls iron from CDW to the surface. Both of these mechanisms increase NPP compared to experiments where ice shelf melt is suppressed. We then show that the phytoplankton self‐shading feedback delays the bloom and reduces peak NPP by 80% compared to experiments where light penetration is independent of chlorophyll. Compared to light limitation, iron limitation due to phytoplankton uptake is more important a) later in the season, b) higher in the water column and c) further from the ice shelf. Finally, sensitivity experiments show that variability in CDW intrusion influences NPP by controlling the horizontal spreading of iron‐rich meltwater.